The Instagram account touting the nickname handle @dudewithsign rose to fame in just a few months and reached over 7 million followers. But who is the man behind the signs, and how did he gain such a moniker and become a living, breathing meme?
A Random Man Holding a Sign
On the streets of New York City stood a man with a cardboard sign, calling attention to a modern-day annoyance. Strangers smiled at his message that said, "Stop asking for my credit card info for free trials."
Other days, people spotted the man in front of Starbucks with "Names are not that hard to spell" scrawled on his board. But who was the long-haired guy that sported sunglasses and had a lot to say about customer service?
His Texas Childhood
Before there was Dude With Sign, there was Seth Phillips; A boy born in the small town of Hawley, Texas. Few imagined that the Texan child from a city of a little over 600 would one day be a viral meme living in New York City. He had a bright future ahead.
A loving family surrounded Phillips throughout his childhood. The boy lived with his parents and sisters in a happy household. Seth loved sports from a young age and played football and baseball. After he graduated high school, the young man left Hawley for college.
Going to College
At 18-years-old, Seth left home and traveled a little over 100 miles for college in Wichita Falls, Texas. Witchita was home to over 100,000 people, a significant change from his tiny hometown. Phillips was excited to start school at Midwestern State University.
The young student knew how to work hard and play hard as he studied for his marketing degree. Lucky for him, good friends surrounded Phillips and made his college experience unforgettable. But one person, in particular, made Seth's time at MSU extra special.
He Found a College Sweetheart
When Seth was at Midwestern State University, he joined the school's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Through the organization, the new student made many friends and went to a lot of parties. Phillips also spent time volunteering and doing other philanthropic work with his buddies.
When Seth wasn't with his friends, he was with his girlfriend, Madison Rhain. The couple experienced many of the ups-and-downs of college together. When Phillips graduated, Rhain captioned a photo on Instagram, "I'm officially your college sweetheart. Congrats, baby." The beloved graduate was soon on to a new chapter of life.
He Needed More Money
After graduation, Phillips wanted a change of scenery. The young man spent a lot of time in Texas, and he wanted a new adventure. Seth decided to go on a big, post-graduation trip but soon realized he needed more money. Using his marketing skills, Seth came up with a great idea.
Phillips designed and sold T-shirts to raise money for a trip to Australia. "Me being a 23-year-old... I'm excited as ever to learn new places, meet good people, and get a little uncomfortable," he said. "If you have 18 bucks to spare, get a shirt." The plan worked, and Seth was soon on his way to the land down under.
"Australia Has Been Amazing"
Phillips traveled all over the country and had a blast. "Australia has been amazing, and the freedom that has already come with this trip has been indescribable," he said. "I met these goons in Melbourne, and they invited me to come along on their road trip down the great ocean road and then across to Sydney. Life's dope."
But once Seth saw everything there was to see, he was not ready to return home. So Phillips continued his travels in Asia. There, the 23-year-old visited Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. But a twist of fate eventually settled him in one place.
Moving to The Big Apple
When Seth was on his way to Australia for the start of his travels, an old friend got in touch with him. His pal lived in New York and worked with Elliot Tebele, the creator of Jerry Media, at What Do You Meme. Whatdoyoumeme was an adult party games company, and they asked Phillips if he could "help write for" the business.
As Phillips ran out of money and places to visit, he decided to go back to the United States and try things out in New York City. "Then I ended up in New York and landed a job in content marketing and writing for Whatdoyoumeme," he said. The small-town boy had no idea what the Big Apple had in store.
Adjusting to New York
Going from tiny communities in Texas to a city of over 18 million people was a big change, but his recent travel experiences helped ease the transition. "New York was a bit of a shock, but it's such a trip, and I'm having the best time," Phillips explained.
"I fell in love with the company, and with New York, " Seth said. He used his marketing major and imagination to excel in the creative environment of What Do You Meme. But it was an old project by Elliot Tebele, known on Instagram as @f***jerry, that launched Phillips to success.
He Revived Elliot's Marketing Ploy
Before Seth worked at What Do You Meme, Elliot Tebele tried getting the brand some attention by standing on the street with a cardboard sign with random messages. "Elliot started it and did a couple of signs, but it kinda died off," Phillips explained.
Seth saw potential in the idea and wanted to give it another try. "So I picked it up when I started at What Do You Meme, kept going with it," he said. Few could have predicted that such a simple and cheap marketing strategy would blow up the way it did.
Seth's Next Attempt With the Sign
In September of 2019, Phillips and Elliot Tebele stepped out onto the New York City streets to give their project another go. In the high-end neighborhood of SoHo, Phillips stood with a simple sign while Tebele got pictures for his Instagram page, @f***jerry.
The piece of cardboard Seth held up read, "Stop 'replying-all' to company-wide emails." Phillips and Elliot garnered a few smiles and laughs but no major reaction; But the shot got enough likes on Instagram, and the creative duo was not ready to give up.
When His Sign Finally Went Viral
The second time the boys went out, they had a more controversial message than the first. Phillips stood in front of a billboard for the hit show Friends and held a sign that read, "Seinfeld is way better than friends." The provocative piece of cardboard got the response they wanted.
"Next thing you know, it just blew up," recalled Phillips. Their creatives gained an online following after their second attempt, and they wanted the momentum to continue. So Seth and Elliot planned to create an Instagram specifically for these protests.
The Start of @dudewithsign
Tebele and Phillips put together a @dudewithsign Instagram account with their coworkers' support at What Do You Meme and Jerry Media. Within four months, the account had nearly 4 million followers. "The first few posts got a ton of attention," Seth said.
He continued, "But my sign 'Daylight Savings makes no f***ing sense' is probably the one that got the account to 1 million followers." After that initial 1 million, there was no stopping the Dude With Sign. So what exactly did followers find so amusing about Phillip's messages?
Dude With a Sign's Relatable Content
As Dude With a Sign grew, so did the kinds of signs Phillips designed. Some of his messages were relatable, such as, "Stop walking slow on sidewalks," a common issue faced by rushed New Yorkers on their way to work. Sometimes, Seth called people out. "No one cares about your fantasy football," he wrote once.
On Mother's Day, his sign said, "Your mom doesn't even have Instagram." Seth also had motivational messages like, "Use this sign to slide into someone's DMs." No matter the category, the aim was to make people smile. How did Phillips come up with such brilliant, relatable stuff?
The Creative Minds Behind the Cardboard
While Phillips was certainly the face (with sunglasses) under the cardboard, he was not alone creating the ideas. "So we work in a pretty fun and creative space, so once the account kicked off, more ideas came in from the team," Phillips explained. His coworkers at What Do You Meme and Jerry Media helped grow the account.
"We kind of all contribute ideas. It's more about the fun in coming up with things to 'protest,'" Seth said. "It's always a good time brainstorming... and I truly enjoy being around so many creative people in a place where we shoot out ideas as our jobs." But there had to be a more defined strategy than just shooting out ideas.
How They Attracted Strangers on the Street
How did the masterminds manage to crack a smile from a wide range of people in a bustling, busy city? "When creating the protests, we try to come up with something funny that is relatable that people don't particularly talk about," Seth shared. "We try to have each of these elements while appealing to every type of person."
He continued, "Which is a big part of why I think the account has accumulated as many followers as it has." Phillips drew inspiration from work and daily life. But Seth knew that while the cardboard words were important, getting a photo with which followers engaged was also valuable.
Capturing the Perfect Shot
Phillips soon understood what attributes made a successful shot. "It depends on how we want to capture the picture. People moving about their day normally, seeing if we can capture anything in the background that's relevant," he explained. "I'm always wearing my sunglasses, too."
Seth said, "I used to only stand out there for a few minutes just to get the picture, but now I'm out there for way longer... I end up staying out there for a couple of hours, trying to be nice and take pictures with everyone who asks." In time, Dude With Sign became a celebrity.
How Seth Became a Celebrity
When Phillips first stood on the streets of New York with his quirky protest sign, he only got some smiles and giggles. But a few months later, it was a different ball game. "The corner usually fills up with people within minutes, and everyone has their phones out," Phillips said.
"When I'm finished, a lot of people will ask to take pictures with me or videos," he shared. "It's a very strange feeling, but it also kind of cracks me up that people are seeing me as a famous person for holding up cardboard signs." But to some people, Dude With Sign was much more than just some guy holding a poster.
Followers Were Grateful for Seth's Messages
As Dude With Sign, Seth wrote messages that were relatable and funny. But he also made content that showed empathy and understanding of the chaotic, busy life that many live in the 21st century. People resonated with his words, like "Reminder to drink water today."
When Seth posted that kind of message, the Dude With Sign comments section was filled with people showing their gratitude. "Thanks man. Needed that," wrote a follower. On a different post, someone said, "Legit everything he writes I'm with. Seth for president." But Dude With Sign's reputation wasn't free of negativity.
People Were Upset With Dude With Sign
People sometimes thought that Seth pushed the boundaries of humor and entered dangerous territory. When he wrote on his piece of cardboard, "You can vote without posting your sticker," many followers were upset by what they thought was a discouraging message.
"Why post something negative about people voting?" one user asked. "Yes, people need all the encouragement & positive feedback they can get this year," another wrote in agreement. They were offended by the "mocking" message. And it wasn't the first time Dude With Sign stirred the pot.
His Controversial Actions
When Seth used Dude With Sign to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, some took issue. While a few showed disappointment in his endorsement, others questioned Phillip's authenticity. One person called him a "clout chaser," and another pointed out, "He in the house with this sign."
"Why didn't you hold this up in the streets?" someone asked Seth. A few days later, he took the words to heart and joined an actual protest. Phillips lost some fans who thought Dude With Sign should stick with just protesting Chipotle guac, but the account still grew; And so did the money it generated.
Seth's First of Many Endorsements
Phillip's Dude With Sign Instagram account grew to over 7 million followers. Big companies and celebrities eventually approached Seth to collaborate on ads and sponsorships. The small-town boy became a city boy and a New Yorker who handled deals with multi-million dollar companies.
Phillips sat on a horse in the middle of New York City for his earliest sponsorship deal with Old Spice. "This dude smelled great tbh @oldspice #SmellLikeYourOwnManMan #SponsoredObviously," he captioned the shot. That partnership with the male grooming company was just the beginning.
His Endless Sponsorship Deals
Phillips didn't share how much he racked up in paid ads, but it was probably a decent amount if his profile was any indication. According to Celebrity Net Worth, his boss, Elliot Tebele, had a net worth of about $10 million. After partnering with Old Spice, Seth went on to work with other big names.
"Stop Interrupting the Commercials With Football," he protested in an ad for Sprint. For ABC's The Bachelorette, Phillips's sign said, "Men Watch The Bachelorette Too." He even posted a shot from his glamorous NYC bathroom for a Charmin toilet paper ad. The Internet celeb soon started fraternizing with real-life stars.
From Ellen to Justin, Everyone Wanted Dude With Sign
As Seth's alter ego became more popular, he was shocked when The Ellen Show invited him to help the famous hostess with her opening monologue. "... People are like, 'Ellen Degeneres' producer reached out to chat about some stuff,'" he said in disbelief.
Just a few months later, Seth was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But perhaps the funniest of all was Seth's meeting with Justin Bieber. Wearing his usual sunglasses, Dude With Sign stood next to Justin and told him to shave his mustache. But for Phillips, the craziest encounter involved Rihanna.
"I Actually Got To DM [Rihanna]"
Despite all of the face-to-face celebrity encounters Seth experienced, his most starstruck moment came when he slid into queen Riri's DMs. "I think the craziest thing I'm still wrapping my head around is that Rihanna follows the account," Phillips excitedly said.
"I actually got to DM her, and she mentioned having ideas for some of the protests," he continued. "It's crazy that I'm from... Texas, now living in New York City, managing an account with a following... 3 times the population of my hometown." With Phillips's sudden rise to Internet fame, some wondered if the Texan boy sold out.
Many Worried He Wasn't Relatable
As Dude With Sign grew and Seth brought in more money from sponsorships and appearances, some wondered if the satirical activist had traded in authenticity for cash. How much could Dude With Sign empathize with people's everyday struggles if he partnered with organizations worth millions?
Did Seth really get why guacamole at Chipotle should be free? Was he actually annoyed at having to provide credit card information for a free streaming trial? Perhaps the man behind the sunglasses became less relatable, but he also used his stardom for good.
Seth Took on Charitable Causes
With the growth of his brand, Phillips started using his platform for the greater good. He partnered not only with private corporations but also with non-profits and giveaways. Dude With Sign (along with What Do You Meme and Jerry Media) spread awareness about student loans and awarded scholarships.
Seth also encouraged people to donate to non-profits. "If you are in a position to give, organizations like @feedingamerica... could use your support," he wrote. "With many people facing financial uncertainty during this time, we're donating 250,000 meals to Feeding America." Phillips then took his activism to the next level.
Spreading Light During Dark Times
When the pandemic started, Seth partnered with the World Health Organization on a series of shots aimed to help spread accurate information about staying healthy. The memes had messages like "Elbow bumps are the new handshakes" and "Just chill. Your friends aren't doing anything, anyway."
Phillips also poked fun at annoying trends that people engaged in during their time at home. Dude With Sign brought laughter to many when he wrote, "Stop posting your home workouts." Hard at work, a busy Seth had no idea how much he and his signs inspired random people around the world.
People Began to Copy Him
Nearly 6,000 miles from New York City, Abu Yafta took Dude With Sign's activism strategies to Egypt. His account name, Yafta, meant "sign" or "banner" in Arabic, but the Egyptian counterpart's signs came with a twist: he wrote on an eco-friendly whiteboard.
Abu Yafta's signs contained passionate messages about McDonald's apple pie, annoying salespeople, and bad internet service providers. The account reached over 82,000 followers but didn't match the success of the original Dude With Sign. It turned out Seth himself struggled to comprehend how and why his account blew up.
Seth Never Dreamed This Would Happen
Seth found it hard to grasp the reality of his life. "They really put my dumb*** on a magazine," he said after Schön! featured Dude With Sign on their cover. Phillips couldn't believe that he went from living in a Texas town of about 600 residents to being the cover boy on a publication.
"I had no idea it was going to turn out like this. I'm just excited that I lucked out, getting to use my creativity and have fun at work," Phillips said in an interview with River Beats. So what does the future hold for Seth Phillips and Dude With Sign?
What the Future Holds For Him
When asked what's in store for him and the account, Phillips said, "I'm still trying to figure it out." But one thing seems clear: his future is bright. "Possibilities are endless at the moment with so many people reaching out for music videos, action figures, merch, coffee mug," Seth explained.
"I don't even know what I want for the future of the account," he continued. "At the end of the day, I'm just a regular dude holding f***ing cardboard, and it's just an Instagram account." Well, an Instagram account with "just" a few million followers... and counting!